Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Future of Religion

Can any topic have more opinions?

Religion seems to be built into us, possibly as a result of the knowledge of our own mortality. It's hard to believe that my consciousness, my mind, is in any way a physical manifestation of my brain and that it could simply stop when I die. Surely, I will go on and survive my physical death.

However, logic tells me that my consciousness is a result of the processes in my brain, and when I die, I'll be dead.

As the average level of freedom increases around the globe, two effects related to religion are apparent:

  1. The percentage of people claiming to be religious is decreasing (likely due to an increased tolerance toward those who don't share our personal beliefs), and
  2. The number of religions seems to be increasing.

In the past, religions were founded by charismatic leaders, who convinced others to follow in their footsteps.

Today, many religions (some of which claim not to be religions) are based upon logic, either as rationalizations of combinations of other religions, or as the result of people with similar beliefs getting together and deciding that "this is the way that makes sense".

We can all hope that someday in the not-too-distant future humanity will be above the petty conceits that have led to past and present religious wars.

But then what?

Like all non-extinct organisms, successful religions have survival tenets. (See The Purpose of Life.) For a (generic) church, long-term survival means reproducing the church, growing the congregation. For some, that means having children and keeping those children in the fold. For others, it means spreading the word. Indeed, many of the most successful religions have the attitude that anyone not believing as I do is surely doomed, thus justifying wars and conquest to convert the non-believers. Sometimes the wars are overt (The Crusades, or a Jihad). Sometimes they are peaceful (Christian missionaries come to mind). However, they all strive to convert non-believers to the "one true religion" of the warrior.

My critique group (while working on my story currently titled Ghost Rights) posed a number of question related to religion. Such as, is it still needed? Ghost Rights deals with the uploading of human brains into computers, resulting in effective immortality. (See Immortal Dilemma.) If this is indeed possible, the big question becomes does effective immortality eliminate the need for religion in our lives?

I personally think not. There will always be those who believe that there must be something better out there, reachable automatically by ending what we have now. There will always be those who don't believe that a human soul can be duplicated into a machine, that God's creation cannot be copied by technology (yes, this ignores the fact that humans are copied biologically every second of every day). And there will always be those who don't believe that the copy in the machine is really me. I'm one of the latter, I'm afraid.

Personally, I believe that the human attraction toward religion is based upon our recognition of mortality, and I don't think that is going away in the next few million years.

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